10 Tips for Newly Arrived
A guide for adjusting and thriving in Florence
In the labyrinth of narrow streets and foreign road signs, Florence can seem like a daunting place for anyone setting foot here for the first time. Naturally, newly arrived come across hurdles as they attempt to get familiar with the city. To avoid the dangers of the first period, here are a few tips.
DO NOT GET LOST: Take a stroll off the tourist-beaten path. Wandering through side streets by foot is one of the best ways to get to know the city. You’re more likely to find authentic Italian craft and food shops this way, rather than sticking to the center. Pack a camera, some cash and leave your worries behind. Don’t fret. All roads (eventually) lead back to the Duomo.
ALWAYS KEEP CLOSE TO YOUR STUFF: Florence is not a dangerous city but pickpocketing can happen, so better watch out. Do not leave your important personal belongings in your jacket when you are in some bar, pub or whatever place you are; always attend your purse and always keep it close.
KNOW HOW TO FIND A DOCTOR. If you find yourself in need of medical assistance while in Florence, you can find English-speaking doctors by calling 055/475411. The call service is active 24-hour a day. The Medical Service Center is in Via Roma 4, very close to the Dome and to Piazza della Repubblica. Website is www.medicalservice.firenze.it
KNOW WHERE TO FIND A BIG SUPERMARKET: It is not easy to find big supermarkets in Florence. However, the three CONAD SAPORI & DINTORNI are large supermarkets in the city center that offer typical Italian products and a wide selection of wines. The CONAD SAPORI & DINTORNI for those living near the Ponte Vecchio, or in Santo Spirito or in Santa Croce is in Via de’ Bardi, near the Ponte Vecchio. For those living near the train station the CONAD SAPORI & DINTORNI is in Largo Alinari at the end of Via Nazionale, very close to the station. The third big supermarket is very near the Dome, precisely in Borgo San Lorenzo.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE: It’s easy to get by not speaking Italian at all in Florence, but do try to challenge yourself. In stores, clerks tend to respond in English if they realize that is indeed your native language, but be persistent. Gesture. Practice. Meet the locals. Pick up a newspaper, magazine or even a brochure written in Italian and see how much you can understand. Underline the words and phrases you haven’t learned yet and look them up yourself.
KNOW YOUR FALSE FRIENDS: Just to make learning a foreign language a little bit more challenging, Italian has several words that look and sound like the English equivalent but have completely different meanings. For example, a ‘libreria’ is an Italian bookshop, not a library, so be sure to pay for your books or you could find yourself in a bit of a sticky situation. The importance of accents should also be noted: by forgetting to stress the ‘o’ in ‘casinò’ you are referring to a brothel, not a gambling house!
EAT LIKE A LOCAL: Americans are accustomed to fast food. We like our coffee on the go. Sandwiches ordered, prepared and consumed in the car all under five or less minutes. While in Florence, you should eat like the locals: take the time to eat. Sit (or stand) at a bar to drink your cappuccino. Enjoy it. You might find the change of pace relaxing. When you’re out to eat for dinner, appreciate the multi-course meal. No more of the take-home doggy bags! Portions are smaller here and you’ll notice that food is made for quality, not quantity. Embrace the fact that you’re eating the most delicious Italian food, and remember to take time to enjoy it.
When looking for a sandwich shop, avoid the prepared sandwiches displayed in cases. For the freshest ingredients, find a place that will make your sandwich when you order. A tip for gelato lovers: stay away from the foot-high rainbow mounds of ice cream. They are that bright for a reason. They aren’t as natural and definitely not as fresh.
DRINK LIKE A LOCAL: Wine is part of Italian culture and is to be enjoyed and appreciated, not abused. Italians will laugh at anyone they come across drinking on the streets, so pace yourselves. Sit at a table and drink for pleasure as opposed to getting legless!
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE TREASURES OF TUSCANY: To live like a local, you have to know your location. While it’s exciting and rewarding to travel all over Europe during this time, check out what Tuscany has to offer! A lot of activities and trips can be done in a day, by train or by bus.
STAY POSITIVE: Not everything goes according to plan, but it’s you who determines the outcome of the situation. A bad attitude isn’t going to get you far, with either locals or other students you meet. By keeping an open mind, you’re more likely to absorb the culture and will be able to take away more from your experience. Understand that you will be challenged linguistically, intellectually and morally, and recognize that it’s all part of the adventure.